Film vs. Film: High Sierra vs I Died a Thousand Times

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Classic film noir fans didn’t see to many remakes of a film, with both being made during the classic film noir era. Here is a rare example of just that, High Sierra from 1941 was remade 14 years later as I Died a Thousand Times. So what film is the better movie? I sat down on a Sunday afternoon and watched both of these films back to back to try and answer that question.

Both of these films are based on noir author W.R. Burnett’s book, High Sierra from 1941.

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Round 1: Screen play 

The screenplay is also by W.R. Burnett, though he had John Huston’s help with High Sierra. The dialog is about 85% identical and the story is about 95% identical. It isn’t quite a frame for frame re-make, but it is close.  I would call this a wash, but since the remake basically does not add anything to the original, I’m giving this round to High Sierra. Score: High Sierra 1-I Died a Thousand Times 0

Round 2: Direction and Cinematography 

High Sierra is directed by Raoul Walsh coming off of directing They Drive by Night. I Died a Thousand Times is directed by Stuart Heisler towards the end of his film career as he moved on to television. High Sierra is filmed in black and white while I Died was filmed in Warner Color and CinemaScope. I know, “this is film noir so black and white has to win this battle.” I would say yes to this question most of the time. Black and white cityscapes are the back bone of film noir after all, but this film is more of a country noir, taking place in the beautiful Sierra Mountains for most of the film. Those mountains sure do look better in bright color and on a widescreen. High Sierra is early in the film noir cycle and doesn’t have much of that classic shadowy cinematography like later films either. So I’m giving this round to I Died. High Sierra 1-I Died a Thousand Times 1

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Round 3: The Male Lead

I Died stars the hulking brute Jack Palance as Roy. He is quite a presence on the screen. He looks big and tough and talks big and tough. He is more of a smart thug.  Humphrey Bogart’s star is on the rise here, The Maltese Falcon would arrive later in 1941 and launch him into super stardom. Bogart’s portrayal is more of a smart gangster with a bit of a psycho streak. Both actors have an unique voice and add something to the lines they speak. Well, lets face it, this is film noir and nobody does it better then Bogart. High Sierra 2-I Died a Thousand Times 1

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Round 4: Female Lead

Ida Lupino actually got top billing over Bogart in High Sierra. She was the bigger star at this point in time. Lupino is a film noir legend as an actress and director. I love everything I’ve seen involving Lupino so far. Shelley Winters stars in I Died and adds quite a bit more depth to this character for me. Lupino’s Marie has it together, while Winters’ Marie is trying to survive in a dark world without many options. Winters’ Marie made me believe Roy was her last hope, where I felt Lupino would land on her feet if she lost Roy. Though I loved them both, I’m giving this round to Winters. High Sierra 2- I Died a Thousand Times 2

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Round 5: Supporting Cast

Arthur Kennedy and Alan Curtis are very good as Red and Babe, but Earl Holliman and Lee Marvin seem to be more dark for me. I also liked Lon Chaney Jr. as Big Mac in I Died, but liked Henry Hull as ‘Doc’ Banton in High Sierra. The dogs are both entertaining as Pard. I’m going with I Died for this round. High Sierra 2- I Died a Thousand Times 3

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Well it looks like the remake wins this round by round battle, but lets face it, there was actually a knock out in Round 3 and the fight was called. It’s Bogart after all! Both of these films are great, but High Sierra is a classic for a reason. Though if you have not seen I Died a Thousand Times, you should, it is a bit of a hidden gem from the classic film noir era. I enjoyed both films and if High Sierra was never made, we would be talking about the great classic I Died a Thousand Times. Lets face it, High Sierra is a film that never needed a remake, but if you have to make one, I Died a Thousand Times is as good a remake as you are going to find. Maybe on a Sunday afternoon you will have to watch this double feature and let me know your thoughts.

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Review: The Glass Key

The Glass Key is an early classic film noir from 1942 directed by Stuart Heisler. This film is based on one of the greatest noir and hard-boiled authors ever, Dashiell Hammett.

I have not read this book yet, but it is on my long “to read” list. I have read a few things from Hammett and loved everything I’ve read so far.

This film is a very complex film, with many characters important to the story, as they all effect each other until we get to the bottom of the main crime. So I’m going to approach this a little different then I usually do. We are going to look at most of the characters and a brief description of what drives them.

Ed Beaumont played by Alan Ladd: Ed is loyal to his friend, Paul Madvig, even though he knows sometimes this is not the best thing to be. He is also fascinated by our femme fatale for this tale Janet Henry. Ed is a smart man with many connections in the political world as well as the criminal world and bonces from one to the other with ease.

Paul Madvig played by Brian Donlevy: Paul is a political powerhouse, but is well known to be crooked. He often answers questions with his fists instead of with his wits. He is a feared man in our city and plans on marrying Janet Henry. He also is helping Janet’s father get elected as governor. He is also overprotective of his little sister, who happens to be dating Janet’s brother Taylor. Paul does not like Taylor and thinks he is a bad influence on his young sister.

Janet Henry played by Veronica Lake: Janet is our femme fatale, she is dating Paul, but plans on dumping him as soon as her dad is elected governor. She seems to Like Ed, but can do nothing about it until after the election. She is smart and beautiful and knows how to use both attributes to get what she wants for her and her family.

Opal ‘Snip’ Madvig played by Bonita Granville: Opal is Paul’s little sister and is madly in love with Taylor. When Taylor ends up murdered, she believes her brother did it.

Taylor Henry played by Richard Denning: Taylor has a gambling problem and owes some bad men some money. He uses Opal to help her get some cash after his family has decided to not help him anymore. Taylor ends up murdered and finding out who did it is the driving force of this story.

Nick Varna played by Joseph Calleia: Varna owns a number of illegal gambling operations in the city. When Paul decides to crack down on crime in the city to help Henry get elected governor, Varna is his first victim. This happens even though Varna has been paying protection to Paul. “business is business and politics is politics.” Taylor Henry also owes Varna his gambling debts.

Jeff played by William Bendix: Jeff is Varna’s top muscle. He likes to beat people up, but he has a hard time keeping his mouth shut.

As most of my readers know I don’t like spoilers and don’t write any in my reviews. Hopefully this array of characters is enough to get you excited to see this film. Everybody is great in this, especially Ladd, Lake and Bendix. The story is very complicated but easy to follow. Hammett’s storytelling is some of the best ever.

It is interesting seeing this after watching Miller’s Crossing. Miller’s Crossing is loosely based on this book and Red Harvest by Hammett and you can see the similarities. This would make a great double feature seeing this version from 1942 and comparing it to the version from 1990. I loved both of these films and reviewed Miller’s Crossing earlier here:

https://everythingnoir.com/2015/02/15/re-watching-the-classics-a-fresh-look-at-millers-crossing/

This is also the second Ladd and Lake film I’ve seen, the other is The Blue Dahlia, which also starred Bendix as well. I really loved that film as well and reviewed it here:

https://everythingnoir.com/2015/03/07/review-the-blue-dahlia/

I really look forward to seeing more films with Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake soon and think they made a great pair.

This is a must see for any noir fan, especially those of Ladd, Lake, and Bendix. It is also a must see for fans of Hammett’s books and work.